The 7th March press conference at Los Angeles perhaps has shocked the sporting fraternity at large with the evil of ‘doping’ raising its ugly head once again. And this time it was the Russian career Grand Slam winner Maria Sharapova’s turn to fall from grace.
The Russian sensation – who announced her arrival on the big stage 13 years back with a Wimbledon crown in her teens – admitted to have failed a drug-test at the Australian Open earlier this year. She revealed using a drug named ‘meldonium’ for the last decade or so but got caught in the WADA-radar only after the medicine was included into its list of officially-banned drugs. It remains to be seen if her naive confession can cut short her suspension which is otherwise anything between a year and four.
At the onset, we have a look on the recent cases of doping and the penalties inflicted by the federation. In July 2013, Serbian tennis player Victor Troicki was tested positive for cocaine. However, his 18-month suspension got a six month reprieve from the CAS (Court of Arbitration for Sport). The same year, the Czech lady, Barbora Strycova too received a backdated ban of six months for her blood samples containing sibutramine.
The 2014 US Open champion, Marin Cilic, was barred from action due to inattentive use of nikethamide. Like Troicki, Cilic too got a reprieve from CAS. Last year, Ukraine’s Kateryna Kozlova sat out for six months on account of dimethylbutylamine. Recently, in a repeat of Mariano Puerta (discussed later), US player Wayne Odesnik was handed a 15-year suspension from tennis in 2015 after serving one-year banishment earlier in 2010 coupled with his name doing the rounds in a drug scandal in Major League Baseball in 2013.
However, failing a drug test isn’t a latest phenomenon. Doping has had found its share of tales in the darkest chambers of tennis history. One of the most high-profile cases is that of former world number one Martina Hingis in her second stint in professional tennis when she was banned for 2 seasons for using benzoylecgonine in 2007. Another interesting case of provisional suspension due to failed test is that of Frenchman, Richard Gasquet, whose blood sample contained ‘miniscule traces of cocaine’ in 2009 which he claimed to have received during a kiss at a nightclub.
The 2004 French Open runner-up, Argentina’s Guillermo Coria, too was suspended from the circuit in addition to a monetary fine being tested positive for nandrolone in 2001. Coria, in his turn, sued the New Jersey supplements company which supplied his multivitamins. Later in 2005, his namesake and fellow countrymen, Canas, received a 2-year ban for using a diuretic by the name of hydrochlorothiazide. However, an appeal to the CAS reduced it to a lesser term.
There are more such stories. Seasoned Brazilian doubles player, Marcelo Melo too received a two-month ban in 2007 for using a banned pill for an instant relief from headache. Another French finalist and Argentine, Mariano Puerta, failed repetitive drug tests in 2003 (using clenbuterol) and 2005 (using etilefrine) respectively. He received the infamous ban of an unprecedented 8 years cut short to two by CAS after serving a nine-month ordeal in his first stint. The 1998 Australian champion and 1992 French finalist, Petr Korda, too was banned for taking in steroid nandrolone. 7-time Grand Slam winner, Mats Wilander and another former top 10 player, Karel Novacek too failed a drug test in 1995 – receiving three month sidelines each.
These were all highlighted cases. Now let us sneak through some not so heard before. German Maximilian Abel, a notorious tennis player who served a three-year imprisonment for credit card fraud, too was forbidden from the court for 2 years for cocaine-intake in 2006. In 2010, Ukraine’s Kristina Antoniychuk was banned for a year after her samples confirmed presence of diuretic furosemide. The drug Clenbuterol brought in a two year suspension in 2006 for Karol Beck, who later played in the Wimbledon in 2009 as a lucky-loser in absence of Rafael Nadal.
In 2005, Alex Bogomolov Jr. received a 45-day ban for using salbutamol before he went on to beat Andy Murray later in his career. Next year, one-time Michael Llodra’s partner and fellow Frenchman, Antony Dupuis, too served a 75-day penalty failing a test for the same. Spanish female player, Lourdes Dominguez Lino – who once beat reigning US Open champion Flavia Pennetta for a title – received a three month suspension due to use of cocaine in 2002. Former Australian Open quarter-finalist, Stefan Koubek too served a three month ban for using glucocorticosteroids. Filippo Volandri, who once beat Roger Federer in his prime, too faced a drug ban in 2009.
Some of the other unheralded names to have received the penalty are Simon Larose (2004), Mariano Hood (2005), Sesil Karatantcheva (2005), Mark Nielsen (2006), Ivo Minar (2009), Robert Kendrick (2011), Dimitar Kutrovsky (2012) and Nuria Llagostera Vives (2013).
Apart from the mentioned, there are stars who later admitted to drug abuse after they hanged up their boots. From John McEnroe’s interview in 2000 in admittance to taking cocaine in 1988 to Andre Agassi’s revelation in his autobiography about taking in crystal methamphetamine and lying to the federation for unintentionally getting drugged which granted him a reprieve in 1997 – one can find many a little allegations with more elements of truth in them than rumours.
Though it is a common perception that sportspersons take illegal drugs to enhance their performance, a lot of individuals (as claimed recently by Maria Sharapova) do get trapped in drug mess while taking medication for injury and other ailments. Hence it is also a matter of importance for individual or team doctors to have themselves regularly informed of the (WADA) list of debarred drugs and be wary of not prescribing any from the same to one or many sportspersons under their medication.
There are cases like Agassi where the failed test was pardoned and then there are episodes like Cilic and Hingis who came back strongly from the exile. So the future only can have the best answer to what lies on the road ahead for the much-admired Russian.
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